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  • Elise V Allan

Getting Personal

first published September 11th 2018


There were aspects of my upbringing that supported my freedom to create. I grew up with a lot of physical space; both the house and the garden were big. I could disappear into my own world for hours with no-one to interrupt me. But coming back to the world of people, there was always the threat of Them. I’m sure I’m not the only person who grew up with warnings to be careful about what the neighbours might think.  An anxiety about being judged was instilled in me. My primary school teachers had, early on, commented to my mother that I was ‘a peculiar child’, so I can’t blame my parents for worrying. Not so many generations ago, women were locked up in psychiatric wards for life for stepping out of line. And when I was taken to church, I heard stories about women being stoned to death for behaviour that ‘They’ didn’t approve of. With this history behind us, no wonder, as artists and creators, some of us have a little anxiety about coming out of hiding. Stephen Spielberg once said, ‘I had to get over my fear of running through the world naked and learn to say, “Take me or leave me.”’ One of the most challenging tasks for me, in putting my work out to exhibit, is inviting people to come and see it. As a younger artist, I hoped to find a gallery that would do it all for me; hang the exhibition, invite rich buyers, write wonderfully profound words about my work. I have had exhibitions hung for me occasionally. But putting up an exhibition with the help of a supportive group of friends is energising, sociable and unexpectedly enjoyable. Hanging an exhibition is a creative act, and doing it with friends bridges the gap between the solitary act of painting and the public act of exhibiting. My team are not the easily offended Them; they’re people who like me and were really up for helping. So, my gratitude levels are topped right up. (I love these guys) But sending out a large number of invitations invoked the threat of ‘Them’. So I kept it personal. As I put addresses on envelopes, I could see the people I was inviting in my mind’s eye and held a sense of connecting with individuals I liked. When it came to the email invitations, I sent them in very small groups or separately, including short personal messages wherever it seemed appropriate. It was more time consuming than sending everything in one big mailshot, but in doing it this way, I dodged the imagined but threatening ‘Them’, the anonymous crowd; I was inviting people I would enjoy seeing. Where one larger group emailing could not be avoided, I pictured the handful of individuals within that group that I really wanted the invitation to reach. (I felt a little queasy after sending it, nevertheless, but it passed.) One unexpected bonus was that I had a lot of replies, people letting me know if they could come or not. This preparation had a knock on effect at the private view; as an introvert, I’m not great at being a social butterfly, but I wanted to welcome everyone and thank them for coming, for an exhibition needs an audience and it would have been tough if no-one had come. And as host, it was my job. But as I’d already connected with people prior to the opening, either with words or energetically as I sent the invitations, it wasn’t difficult; I just wished I could spend a little longer talking to each person. So I found my way – perhaps different from how others would do it, but by the end of the evening I’d experienced something magical from all the support, affection and appreciation coming my way. My heart was full. *My Retrospective, 'She Moves Me' is at Gallery North, Glasgow Kelvin College, West End Campus, 75 Hotspur Street, Glasgow G20 8LJ until 27th September.

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